Who Belongs On Your Digital Publishing Team?

An immature industry requires some mature professionals

If you are running an online media operation, don’t underestimate the value of diversity of age, opinions, experience and skills.

Can you remember life before the Internet? …when a personal computer was another name for a hand-held calculator? …when publishing was a process that required a printing press?

If you’re old enough to remember hot type, the pica stick, and manual typewriters, and you’re active in 21st Century online publishing, you’re a “retread.” Congratulations on being smart, adaptable and unafraid to embrace technological change.

I’m 53 years old. I’m a retread, too. And proud of it.

I made the conscious decision back in 1995 to learn everything I could about online publishing. By 1999 I had sold off all my print publishing businesses and was focusing 100 percent of my attention on online publishing and marketing.

I was 43 when I made the transition — successfully, some would say. But I’ll never match the enthusiasm and understanding that my 20-something colleagues have.

At one of my recent workshops, four of the six professionals were former print publishers who have become responsible for online publishing.

Actually, two are essentially print publishers who are trying to do online publishing in their spare time — and struggling.

Two have made the transition from print, and are truly now full-time, online editors.

The other two are online marketers, and that’s all they had ever done professionally.

“What did you do before your were an online marketer?” I asked.

“Drink beer,” was the straight-faced reply. “I was in college.”

Our industry now has a whole workforce of publishing professionals, with three to five years of experience, who have never done anything else.

We all know 24-year-olds who have 10 years of documented experience in website design. They’ve grown up with the technology. And they recognize that it’s still evolving.

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The value of diversity in age and experience

The successful online publishing teams that I see regularly have a diversity of contributors. Usually there is someone leading the group, who is probably in his or her 40’s or 50’s, who is a print publishing retread.

The leaders understand copywriting, headlining, demographics, human behavior, publishing economics, meeting the reader’s needs — all the factors that are not platform-specific.

And they really want the 20-somethings on their team who think that online publishing is absolutely all that matters.

These young people don’t read print newspapers. They think of newspapers as being websites like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Today’s youngest publishing professionals have no nostalgia for the recent demise of the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. They think it was overdue.

Digital publishing is an immature industry

The evolution of the World Wide Web in 2009 is equivalent to where television was in the 1950’s. Or where radio was in the 1930’s. Or where newspaper publishing was in the 1700’s.

All the rules are not yet clearly established. The technology is not yet firmly footed.

Digital publishing is an immature industry. It won’t be a mature industry for several more decades.

The transition is not complete. The technology is still evolving.

Today, both old and new experiences can inform the current digital publishing process.

If you are running an online media operation, don’t underestimate the value of diversity in age, opinions, experience and skills.

There should be plenty of room on your online publishing team for 40-something and 50-something “retreads” who have been retrained. They bring a wealth of valuable experience.

And make certain you recruit some young people who are impetuous and impatient, and are not nostalgic about dying print publications. They are grounded in the present and typify the future.

Want to learn more about how to pick your digital media team…how to grow your email revenue…how to repurpose your paid content into other products such as blogs, membership websites and podcasts for new revenue opportunities…how to achieve higher search engine rankings…how to succeed as an online publisher?

Comments
    Kimberly B.

    At first I was offended by being labeled a “retread,” then I realized that word probably doesn’t have a lot of meaning to our 20-something staff members. So, like our content, we are now recycling words! Kudos, Don.

    Reply
    Tim P.

    Thank you Don, for expressing so eloquently what other 53 year old retreads (and I am sure their younger counter parts) are experiencing in our connections and the collective value of trans-generational digital publishing teams. I made my decision in 1997 to learn everything I could about Internet Publishing. It was 2004 when I found SWEPA (the subscription website publishers association) which in turn lead me to Mequoda. Your points are well balanced regarding the value proposition of different ages and experience levels collectively making up the best teams. There is a lot to be said for “The leaders(who) understand copywriting, headlining, demographics, human behavior, publishing economics, meeting the reader’s needs — all the factors that are not platform-specific.” Just as there is vital importance in securing on your team “…the 20-somethings… who think that online publishing is absolutely all that matters.” I couldn’t have said it better.

    Reply
    Harry B.

    Don: A great piece that really needed to be written. Sometimes, I think, the discourse about online vs. print publishing confuses “work” with “tools.” If a person is a carpenter, he is not a “hammerer,” a “sawer” or a “driller.” He is a carpenter. These other words describe the tools that he uses to do his work.
    I’ve been around publishing long enough to remember the angst we all went through when our paper went from hot type to offset. I remember quite distinctly the first time I was assigned to work on an electric typewriter (scared the bejeesus out of me). I worked on a Gannett newspaper that had one of the first computer-based newsrooms in the country (using a system designed for hospitals). My first newsletter company was one of the first to use Mac-based desktop publishing. And I was obviously here when the Internet came on like gang-busters.
    I’ve considered all of these changes to be changes in the tools I use to do my job — gather and write information that can help change people’s lives and make sure they get that news in as timely and useful a fashion as possible. True, the change to the Internet was probably a lot like the introduction of electrically powered hand tools to the carpentry profession, or even more profound. But the Internet is at bottom just another tool for us to use to do our job. It’s up to us to figure out the best way we can use that tool to gather and write information that can help change people’s lives and make sure they get that news in as timely and useful a fashion as possible.

    Reply
    Rizal E.

    Don, this is a great article.. I couldn’t agree more as I’m managing an online publishing team in my organization which have a diversity of contributors. We have a 40-something COO (British) and a late 40s Head of department (American) who contributes on a bi-weekly basis, a 30 something sub-editor(Asian) and a 20 something editor/designer, which is me(Asian). Each one of us has a different experience with the Internet and this is what we bring to the table. Being the closest and most up-to-date with the Internet trend – I value their input and view. The challenge is to combine all our expertise into one good product.

    Reply

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